3D > 2D

Could 3D Construction Documents Improve Workflow?

Being a recent graduate, my day-to-day (like many of you other recent grads) consists of details. Details, details and more details.  Drawing these varied assemblies in two-dimensions sometimes can lose what is really happening, especially with complex connections and multi-piece systems.  Would switching the entire (or partial) construction document phase to three-dimensions be beneficial or even more of a headache than it already can be?

I started this discussion three years back while still in school.  I was learning how to use Autodesk's Revit software and became increasingly interested in how easy it was to produce three dimensional drawings from the base 2D lines.  These drawings gained importance as I began thinking about how a building came together and learning more about construction details.  For somebody beginning to learn component assembly, the realm three dimensions was imperative to pushing my understanding along as well as creating attractive graphics for presentations.  Drawing is seeing, but when we truly want to investigate we must build and explore to gain a much deeper understanding. 

So would transitioning all (or some) drawing types to 3D help firms understand issues earlier on? Would it harm the creation process and make for a more convoluted path of making?  I believe it's something that we can never know until we try.  Revit is a great program to make an example of because its basic nature allows a designer to turn a simpler 2D thought into a 3D model simply by its basic nature.  It's much easier to rough in details in two dimensions and then see it come to life from user input parameters in 3D.  But if Revit is too expensive or there is not enough resources (human knowledge capital) to run it in your office, how about Sketchup? With its ever-growing components library there are pretty much pieces for every assembly one can think of.  Not only that, but both of these programs are conducive to workflows from the designer standby - AutodCAD.  While it still may be necessary to preliminarily mock up construction details in two dimensions, just think of how much easier for both the designer and contractor it would be to see these assemblies in three dimensions.  The only place two-dimensional drawings get us is an abstraction of what it really will look like and come together when actually implemented.  Three dimensions are much more realistic and would only enhance our knowledge as architects/designers of how things are built.

But let's not stop there, what if all drawings became 3D?  Plans, sections, elevations (aka perspectives), these are all pieces that could benefit from the introduction of an added dimension.  While the 2D is still necessary for certain things such as detailed assemblies and shop drawings, the extra dimension could add a much deeper understanding of what the whole thing will look and feel like in its completed phase.  While this would be quite a jump from the current thought processes in most firms, 2D is a drawing type that may have passed its prime.  With the continued growth of computers and parametric modeling, turning 2D ideas into complex 3D spaces may not be a far cry from current practices.

Is it possible to see this happening?  With the growth of 3D printing and modeling, I believe that it's actually not too far off.  This is going without even thinking how programs such as Revit have already enhanced our workflow.  It may be too expensive to mock-up a certain condition that has you up at night wondering if it will work, but modeling it in a virtual yet complex environment is certainly more affordable and easy to store.  By thinking early in three dimensions, we uphold that we are thinking of everything possible outcome.  It's hard to tell what may happen when just one face of a complex system is being drawn, but expanding it to another dimension gives you the holistic view.  This can help avoid large problems and even create new opportunities earlier and more frequently.  Even if this is too far of a shot for some older or smaller firms, it is at least something to fodder as the next potential change in a field marred by constant flux.